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Union Wins Claremont Contracts By Judith Scherr

Friday March 31, 2006

After almost five years of struggle between management and workers, peace has finally descended on the majestic Claremont Resort & Spa. 

Unite Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 2850 announced Monday that the hotel had finalized contracts wit h hotel and spa employees. 

Hotel workers had been without a contract since September 2001 when management blocked spa workers from joining the union. 

What changed, according to both workers and management, was the new hotel owner. Orlando, Fla.-based CN L Hotels & Resorts, Inc. bought the Claremont in 2004 from KSL Recreation Corp. CNL kept KSL on as the operator for one and one-half years until August when KSL was replaced by management from Interstate Hotels and Resorts. 

“With KSL, I came to work like I was coming to a war zone; there was a lot of stress,” said Fidel Arroyo, who has been a cook at the Claremont for 11 years. Each day Arroyo would think, “Maybe today is the day I lose my job.” 

But in August, the work environment for Arroyo and the other workers was transformed. 

“Immediately, with Interstate everything changed. They gave us a raise immediately,” he said. “And all the management inside the hotel started changing their attitudes.” 

Like Arroyo, Claremont General Manager Mike Czarcinski was in a celebratory mood. 

“I’m overwhelmed with joy,” he said, giving credit to the hotel owners for the positive outcome. “It’s not just Interstate that saw the light. It was the ownership changes to CNL.” 

The agreement raises the workers’ wages and l owers the amount they pay for benefits immediately and continues over the life of the contract. 

“By the end of the contract in 2009, we’ll be matched with the Marriott and Hilton (wages),” Huber said, adding that the new contract includes thousands of dollars in bonuses and retroactive pay. And the employers’ responsibility for paying for benefits increased significantly.  

Another union victory went to spa workers who were able to vote on whether they wanted to unionize. The vote that brought them into the union was held two weeks ago. 

For Arroyo the settlement means he gets just under a $2/hour wage hike over the next two and one-half years and his expenditure for benefits for his family plummets immediately from $250 to $80 and will end up at $25 by the end of the contract period. 

“With KSL we were just showing up for negotiations—it was a waste of time,” said Wei-Ling Huber, HERE Local 2850 vice president, who helped to mount support that included the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a group of local clergy and a unanimous Berkeley City Council. 

There had been lively picket lines and what Huber called “a very successful boycott” of the hotel.  

That boycott has been called off.  

During the labor strife, Arroyo had paid a price for supporting the union. He was suspended from his job two different times. The first suspension came when he was leafleting in front of the hotel, but a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board got him reinstated. The second time he allowed a photo of himself and his family to be used on a union poster calling for the hotel boycott. After that, he was written up “for little things,” he said, and suspended for a week. But an appearance on a local radio show brought a flood of calls to the hotel. “The company had to bring me b ack,” he said. 

Czarcinski said he’s not thinking about the strife of the past. 

“Management is focused on the present and the future. The union and the Claremont are the winners,” he said, urging support for the hotel. “We want to be part of the Berkeley-Oakland community.””µ